A Welcome for The Queen

A Welcome for The Queen

Story and photos by Claudia Colli

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II receives a pouch
of Salt Island salt and a BVI Welcome Guide

In 1966 Queen Elizabeth made her first official visit to the British Virgin Islands. She was 40 years old and had been on the throne for 14 years. She returned in 1977 and I covered her visit for the Virgin Islander magazine, a regional publication that featured the events, people and places of the VirginIslands. I hadn’t lived here that long, and as an American, I was fascinated by life in a Territory where West Indian culture was juxtaposed with British tradition. Cultural overlap was everywhere: official portraits of the Queen hung on the walls of the post office and other government offices, cricket and rugby matches were played down the road from basketball and softball games, and the refrains of God Save the Queen could be heard at official events while a reggae or calypso band played just a block or two away.

The Queen’s trip to the Virgin Islands was heralded with appropriate fanfare. She and Prince Philip arrived aboard the official Royal Yacht, Britannia, which anchored in Road Harbour. A British naval destroyer accompanied the royal yacht anchoring nearby. The royal launch brought the Queen ashore amidst a flotilla of yachts with burgees and flags flying from the rigging; their crews stood on deck clad in dress whites. Three DC3 passenger planes roared over the yacht in an aerial salute.

At the time I wrote: “as Queen Elizabeth walked down the reception line, she carried herself regally, yet did not seem quite the imposing figure many had expected. As one young English woman observed, ‘She has that healthy, pink faced glow typical of many British women.’ Indeed the Queen’s friendly smile and familiar features prompted some people to say it was like greeting a close relative.”

The Queen’s visit was a whirlwind of carefully executed events and I was impressed by her staminaand decorum. Always gracious and charming, she walked through the intense tropical heat cool as a cucumber. She addressed the Legislative Council and walked from the Sir Olva Georges Plaza to thehospital where she greeted patients and new mothers in the maternity ward, including a friend of mine who had just given birth to twin daughters.

Following a rest and luncheon at Government House, the Queen was on the road again – this time, to Paraquita Bay to attend the annual Agricultural and Handicrafts Show. Here too, crowds lined her route, but security was less stringent and public and press alike were able to walk right up to her in the exhibition tents and snap closeup photos of her as she questioned exhibitors about their wares. Then it was onto Virgin Gorda before returning to Road Harbour where the Queen and Prince Philip entertained the Governor and the Chief Minister for anofficial dinner, followed by a short reception attended by 200 guests. The evening ended with fitting pomp and ceremony. A fireworks display and a choral group singing at the jetty’s edge marked the end of the royal visit as the Britannia sailed out of the harbour.

Since then, the Queen has made no other visits to the British Virgin Islands, but recently I learned of another connection between Her Majesty and the Virgin Islands: Queen Elizabeth has a copy of The BVI Welcome Guide. On a trip to the UK in March this year, Virgin Islands Governor John S. Duncan, had an audience with Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace. As Queen Elizabeth’s representative to the Virgin Islands, Governor Duncan presented her with gifts from the people ofthe VI: a pouch of salt from Salt Island and the February/March issue of The Welcome. That particularissue featured an article on Salt Island by Julian Putley which recounted the BVI’s salt reapingtradition.

I had taken the photographs accompanying the article while on an excursion to Salt Island in thelate 1970s. The photos included one of Clementine Smith, one of just a handful of Salt Islanders stillreaping salt at that time. Appropriately, her grandson Calvin “Jandy” Smith of East End harvested the salt given to Her Majesty. By presenting salt to the Queen, Governor Duncan wascarrying on a longstanding tradition going back to the days of Queen Victoria when it was customary for the Administrator, and later the Governor, to send one pound of salt to the Monarch in lieu of rent.

The Queen has visited countless nations around the world, both large and small. I don’t know how much she remembers of the two trips that she made to the Virgin Islands so many years ago. I hope, though, that the gifts of a pouch of Salt Island salt, along with The BVI Welcome Guide, have helped to bring back memories of these visits.

The Welcome occupies a special place in the hearts of many people around the world, and it is nice to think that Queen Elizabeth may be one of them.